Disclaimer: …So not mine. You know the drill.

Very strong T rating. You've been warned. And this is a very, very, very long short story.

Written for the 2006 Dramione Valentine Fic Exchange.

There are Some

1.1.1.1.

Ironically, the first thing Ron(ald) ("Weasel") Weasley (Esquire) thought when she murdered his libido—strangled it, decapitated it, hacked it to pieces with the most bloodthirsty chainsaw flippin' ever—was that she had gorgeous legs. Legs with feeling. Legs with shape. Legs with lovely, strong calves that curved deliciously from her knees to her ankle to her itty bitty feet.

His thoughts sped through his mind with speed only another sexually repressed man-boy's mind can comprehend right before she looked up, screamed, threw her hand-towel at his face and ran away. Ron didn't see what the problem was, at first, as his mind floated in a pinkish haze and a few freckles rearranged themselves as he grinned goofily into nothing. It was the 21st century, after all. Women were allowed to wear indecent swimsuits without being prosecuted. There was nothing wrong with being seen in scraps of 100 manmade fabric that covered only the necessary areas to avoid completely X-rated exposure.

While his mind still snuggled amongst its cotton-candy pink fog of protection, Ron also began to wonder why Pansy was wearing a bikini in January. Was it part of an arcane Dark spell that required the caster to prance around and tempt innocent bystanders (such as himself) into thinking thoughts that dared not be uttered? He also began to wonder why the top of her bikini was white and rather cottony-looking and why the bottom half of her bikini looked like granny underwear and was bright red with dancing reindeer pictured on its back.

He realized, stupidly, that he had caught Pansy Parkinson in the middle of changing.

He realized, stupidly, that Pansy Parkinson was his neighbor.

He realized, stupidly, that the hand towel she had thrown at him across the hallway was not, in fact, a towel designed to soak up water, but a towel designed to soak up something of a completely different nature.

He snatched the offending woman-pad off his shoulder and shrieked like a fucking girl.

1.1.1.1.

Once upon a time…

Hermione stared into a faraway land, into a faraway place, and spilled scalding milk on her long-suffering cat.

There lived a girl…

"Oh! God! Oh! God!" She panted, hands fluttering in a manner disturbingly reminiscent of Mrs. Weasley and grabbed her flower vase, dumping its contents onto Crookshanks who yowled piteously at the onslaught. He disliked water perhaps more than he disliked Ron. "Oh gosh, I'm sorry, honey…" Picking up her dreadfully spoiled cat, Hermione answered the ringing phone.

"Hello?"

Who lived in a castle that had plaster and concrete walls, and a flat roof, and cheap carpeting in a world that had forgotten its life of nine years past. In a world where those who still remembered had long ceased to care about past grievances.

"Hello?" There was a faint whuffling noise on the other end; hard breathing. "Ron? Is that you?"

More heavy breathing. "Hermione?"

"Ron?" She asked inanely, again. "Ron, are you all right?"

"Hermione…" Ron whimpered over the phone.

"Are you hurt, Ron? Ron? Did the movers drop furniture on you?" She remembered belatedly that the movers weren't due for another hour.

"Hermione…" Ron moaned again, panting into the phone. She got the sense that his mouth was barely a centimeter away from the mouthpiece.

"Ron," She said exasperatedly, "Are you trying to turn me on?"

And those who didn't forgive and didn't forget had been touched by the wicked witch and made better by it, because they'd struggled so hard to turn the tide against the evil king while the wicked witch coughed and cackled and did nothing but watch. When they'd finally emerged, the witch stayed for the aftermath of the damage she had wreaked, and she didn't let her chosen ones forget, for otherwise she would simply disappear into dust and take the stars with her.

"Because honestly, Ron, this is ridiculous."

There was choked chortle. "Hermione, Hermione."

She retorted, "Don't ever say my name in that tone. And don't ever repeat it like that, either."

"I saw Pansy Parkinson in her underwear."

Taken aback for just a moment, Hermione shouldered on. "Now, Ron, Hogwarts was ten years ago. There's no need to bring up moments in your past that will require a few more years of therapy; it's not good for—"

"Pansy Parkinson is my new neighbor."

There was a crash outside her window that only let Hermione say, "Oh, that's too bad, Ron, but like I said, Hogwarts was ten years ago and I'm sure that you can overcome past prejudices silence." Then she was forced to look over to her window to see what was making that horrible knocking sound, because she had just cleaned her windows yesterday.

The girl was not very beautiful, nor very gentle or good or kind or sympathetic. Her golden locks were more on the side of brown-golden. Or actually just brown. Shit-brown. They weren't very golden at all, and fanned out from her head like tumbleweeds. Her eyes were mud-brown. She was a creature of the dirt, but from the dirt she learned that those who walked above her had very dirty shoes.

"Ron," Hermione said calmly, slowly walking to her window, "I'm afraid that I have to go."

"Hermione?"

"It's an emergency."

"Hermione? Wait, I'm not done yet…Hermione, what—"

Click.

She walked to her window, inching along the side of her walls, wand gripped in sweaty fingers. A hand scrabbled against the smooth surface of her window, and Hermione swallowed a gasp, hoping that it was only one of her friends playing a very, very bad joke on her. "Alohomora." The window clicked open, the hand stilled, and she whispered again, "Mobilicorpus," with a quick flick of her wand.

Draco Malfoy flew across the room and landed with a thump on her cheap-ass carpet, bruising his not-so-cheap ass in the process. "Oh, God." He groaned as he saw her. "Send me back out the window to dangle above my death."

The girl had seen the cool, green boy before the wicked witch chose them. The cool, green boy had sneered at the golden, dirt girl and called her awful names that the wicked witch thrived on. And after the evil king was gone, the girl had seen the boy again, once, pushed out of a Respectable Establishment that didn't serve members of the dead king's court. He hadn't seen her. Again she'd seen him the year after that, face pressed to the window of a party she was laughing in, dancing in. Nose and hands and girly eyelashes squashed desperately against the window as snowflakes fluttered like the worst clichés behind him. Their eyes had met. He'd yanked himself away, run into the night, and out of pity and a deep, buried empathy she had not followed.

They wasted two minutes staring at each other.

"You." She hissed, pointing her wand at him. "What are you doing here?"

He looked at her sourly. "Well, you pulled me away from your window and brought me into your apartment."

It startled her, a little, how easily he used the quintessentially Muggle word…'apartment'. It was odd coming from Malfoy's lips, lips inherited from generations of Malfoys who had put those lips only on their pureblood mothers' breasts, only on their pureblood wives' and mistresses' mouths, only on silver spoons that were forged by pureblood wizard-smiths. "What were you doing dangling outside my window."

"I was observing new and unrecorded varieties of fungi that have colonized your building's walls. I will biologically engineer the bacteria to create an incurable disease similar to the Black Plague. I shall release it among the innocent population and become King of the World. Mwahaha." He added pensively, getting up and walking towards the door. "I'm gone, now, so point your wand away from me."

"Why, where's yours?" She taunted, still training an eye (and her wand) on him.

"They broke it." His face closed.

Her wand quivered, and then steadied. "I'm afraid I can't let you leave the premises, Malfoy," she began formally, when he interrupted her.

"I was acquitted of charges, Granger. The last addition to Dumbledore's will; the sodding fool. Spent five years in a Muggle prison—surely you read the papers?—as punishment for various activities performed in my youth, then got out. And now I'm going to be gone, out of your life, leaving you to wallow in the mud with the rest of your kind while I fade into fucking obscurity." He was so bitter; so, so bitter that it soured the taste on her tongue, too.

"Get out." She muttered. Because she hadn't been compared to mud in a long time.

"I'm skipping for joy."

She let him go, still dumbfounded into incoherent thought-babble. Her past had come back to haunt her. Her past had greasy hair and angry eyes.

Nine years.

He had been the one who broke the last catch holding the wicked witch captive. And then he was forgotten in the fury that followed. Because for all that he liked to think, he didn't matter in the world.

Ten minutes later, after she had recovered and had decided to forget the incident and forget once more that Draco Malfoy had ever existed, Ron called her again.

"Hello?"

"Hermione?" He moaned.

"Ron, I don't want to go through this another time. What's wrong?"

"It's worse." He sounded like a kicked puppy. In a way he really was, because Fate was a bitch.

"What is it?"

"Draco Malfoy lives on my other side."

Hermione's world thudded to a halt. "Ronald Weasley, I demand that you find another place to live or I swear to God I will never visit you again."

And then the dirt girl—her name was Hermione Granger—decided that if she ever saw the cool, green boy—his name was Draco Malfoy—again, she'd pummel his ass so hard into the ground that he'd have dirt tattoos on his bum 'til kingdom come. Because he was back into her life and it wasn't that he reminded her of everything she'd lost (because that was stupid and clichéd) but because he reminded everybody else of what she'd lost. And she'd bloody his stupid pointy nose just for that.

The fairy tale's over, folks.

1.1.1.1.

"Yeah."

"Hello? HELLO?"

"Father?"

"HEEELLLLOOOOOO?"

"FATHER, I'M RIGHT HERE!"

"What? WHAT WAS THAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?"

"I bring you greetings, citizen, from the planet of Mars."

"WHAT? ARE YOU INSULTING ME, DRACO?"

"You're insulting yourself, Father, by yelling like a maniac."

"IT'S THESE DISGUSTING MUGGLE DEVICES. THEY DON'T WORK. I DON'T SEE WHY I'M FORCED TO—"

"It's because you are in prison, Father. It is because you are guilty of crimes against humanity. It is because the guards are more powerful than you and better than you and your wand is broken and nobody cares the fuck about you any more except me."

"DON'T YOU DARE—"

Draco hung up the phone. Lucius's medication must have worn off…by now the guards would have heard his father's crazy talk and would have shouldered him off to the infirmary, injected him with Muggle stabilizers using Muggle needles and Muggle medical techniques, and in twenty minutes Lucius would call again, his mind foggy from the new dose of drugs, and he and Draco would talk civilly to each other and inquire as to each other's health and whether Draco was eating properly (not really) and how the food in high-security wizard prison was (awful).

Lucius had never gotten the hang of the telephone, though.

Draco thought that a part of Lucius's mind refused to learn because a large majority of Lucius's being still liked to keep itself distant from all things Muggle, even if they forged the few connections between him and his only surviving family. Also because it was a small rebellion against his imprisonment and penalty.

Draco chuckled softly. Was it very bad of him, he wondered in a very quiet voice, that he liked his medicated father more than he liked his father when he was in his prime…and that he still loved his father who beat him and belittled him more than he loved the one who clung to Draco like a drowning man?

"Draaaacooo!" Pansy squealed from two doors down. "Come quickly! Oh, God, come on!"

He and Pansy had moved into the apartment block a year ago. They weren't lovers. They were barely friends. But they had that old connection and grasped each other as the only remnants of a life best forgotten. They put one apartment between them because it seemed more private that way. Often they'd forget to close their doors—they were the only two on the floor, though, so it didn't matter, and the last time they'd looked at each other's bodies in lust or even interest, they had been fourteen.

Were the only ones on the floor.

…He couldn't believe he was living next to Ronald Weasley. Living on the same floor, same level as the Weasel. Oh, how the mighty doth fall.

And don't ask how the hell he found himself hanging from Hermione Granger's window. Let's just say that Weasel's gotten better at using his wand thingamajig since last Draco saw him.

If Draco and Pansy hit the jackpot, they'd be living next to Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, Hannah Abbot, Blaise Zabini (oh, wait, he was dead), and maybe even Harry Potter.

Oh, wait. That kid was dead, too.

"Draaacoooo!"

"Fuck it, Pansy, I'm coming!" He hollered back, throwing his door open and storming across to her door. Which was locked. "Do you want me to come in or not?" Draco yelled.

Mudblood had put him in a really bad mood, so he decided to take it out on Pansy, because he hated women then, and Pansy was a woman (although some might argue that, because she had no qualms about making grown men weep).

"I'm coming!" Her high, unmistakably girly voice came through, different from Granger's deep-ish, man-ish one. "God, you're sooo impatient."

"Me?" He almost squeaked in outrage. "You're the one who's all, 'Come ooon, Draco, because there's a big, bad monster in my closet and I need you to squish it for me'! What the hell's wrong, anyway?"

Through the crack she'd made between the wall and the door when she'd opened it, Pansy's eyeball swiveled around, resting on the entrance to her left a little longer than necessary before opening the slab of plywood that people kept trying to pass off as a door and ushering him in.

"What." Draco stated firmly, arms crossed. A very long time ago, his father had told him that it was a good position to assume when one was dealing with hysterical women-folk like his mum.

"Weasel…" She hiccupped. "Weasel saw me…"

"Well, of course he saw you," he started, and then realized he sounded like Granger, so he changed his tone. "Er, what do you mean?"

"He saw me…dressed like…" Pansy inhaled deeply. "…like this." She whipped off her robe.

Draco screamed and covered his eyes. "Fuck, Pansy! Ew! We were over in Fifth Year!"

"Just look, you woman!" Pansy roared.

Draco looked. And then he laughed. And then he thought he might send Weasel a condolence card and some flowers because nobody deserved to see Pansy in her red reindeer granny knickers.

"You're such a jerk!"

He continued laughing like the meanest of the mean, and Pansy began slapping him around, and then the cheap door was blasted off its hinges and the Weasel emerged from the dust like a victorious hero just returned with Pompeii's head.

Pansy screamed and tried to cover herself, reaching hyper-sensitive peaks of sound, sending the cells in his ear canals scurrying for cover. Weasel screeched even louder and higher, scrabbling at his eyeballs and wailing, "I heard screaming! And hitting! I thought something was wrong! Oh, God, keep your domestic troubles to yourselves next time!"

And…Draco kind of thought that maybe it was all right if Weasel lived by them. After all, it had been so long since Pansy had been with a decent guy and she deserved someone a bit better than him, and Weasel had always been a bit better than him. And they were nine years out of school. They were eight years out of the war. They were seven years out of the moment Draco had gone to Muggle prison and lost nearly everything.

It had to have been enough time. It had to.

1.1.1.1.

It had been a week since Ron had moved into his new apartment, surrounded on all sides by Slytherins. Despite all her vows, Hermione had actually been feeling rather guilty that she had left him to fend for himself in his hour of need—that just wasn't what best friends did. They hadn't left Harry, even until the last. So no-fuckin'-way was she leaving Ron by himself with no company and no support and no ammunition.

It was Draco Malfoy. How dangerous could he possibly be? What could he do; hiss at her? Throw pottery at her?

All the same, Hermione grabbed Harry's old invisibility cloak and slinked down the one block to Ron's apartment building with her wand out and eyes open. January was quite definitely the ugliest month of the year, she decided. Everything was brown and gray and slushy and it was cold like Lucius's eyes when he'd looked down at her and told her she—

One. Two. Three. Fourfivesix. Seven. She began counting the lines on the sidewalk to distract her. Damn Draco Malfoy to the seventh hell.

Damn Draco Malfoy to the seventh hell where he will perform seven tasks of unimaginable difficulty and sacrifice and let him never be able to end it until time reaches its end, she amended viciously as she climbed twelve goddamn flights of stairs to reach Ron's apartment on the twelfth floor because she was too scared to use the elevator for fear of getting caught.

Harry had called her a 'vindictive vixen valentine' (and laughed so hard because it didn't make sense to either of them at the time) because, well, she was actually a very jealous and self-centered person, and because he said she masked it all under many layers of softness and sugariness and compassion. She remembers him with only a tiny pang in her heart, now, because it has been nine years.

But she loved him so much. She loved him so much.

And damn, she was crying, and she hadn't done that in a very long time. It would be a rather frightful sight to see drops of water coalescing in mid-air, though, so for the sanity of potential observers, she hiccupped in a deep breath, wiped the dampness away with the back of her rather grubby hand, and climbed the last flight of stairs.

And slammed her back against the wall as she saw Pansy Parkinson for the first time in seven years.

"I told you, I don't need help!" Her nose was as squashed in as it had been all those years ago; Hermione had always taken some small comfort in the fact that although Pansy had nicer hair than hers, Hermione had a nicer nose. "Go away, Weasel! Piss off! Go molest some other old lady who needs help with her groceries, you creep!"

Hermione stifled something that was halfway between a sob and a laugh, because Pansy hadn't changed one bit. Not one bit. Hermione still wanted to leap up and shove Pansy's voice down her throat.

"I'm just trying to help, Pansy," Ron's head poked out of the elevator; the rest of him followed. "Do you even have a job to pay for all these?"

Pansy sniffed at him. "None of your business. And for the love of God, stop trying to make friends with me. I understand that you're bereft and belone—er, alone now that Granger's gone and ostracized you, but go do the manly bonding with Draco. You'd have better luck with him."

Hermione was very proud of her boy when his face twisted in disgust. "You make it sound like it's some sort of sexual activity."

"How would I know what men do to bond? Do you bathe yourselves in blood? Go kill a few ducks? Go get lost in the wilderness for a few days because both of you are too stubborn to ask for directions, and neither of you are intelligent enough to read a map?"

Ron's mouth opened. Hermione silently cheered him on. "For your information, Pansy, Draco and I already bonded. Sort of." Hermione wasn't so proud of him then. She also desperately hoped that Ron's statement was only a means of deflecting Pansy's barbs and that he was purposely making it sound like an orgy took place during aforementioned bonding

"Suit yourself. But—and give those to me!" Pansy snatched her plastic bags away from Ron, huffing angrily as she did so. "Stop trying to act like some fantastic do-gooder, Weasel. It's been, like, ten years, so get over yourself already. You can't replace Potter. You can't be the fucking hero, you know? The war's over and he's dead and you can't bring him back. So piss off."

Hermione grabbed the yellow umbrella from the stand next to her, fully prepared to impale Pansy right through her black heart, but winced and slowly inched it back into its place when she realized she wasn't supposed to be seen. It was a rather cute umbrella. Had a little model of a duckie on the top. It would have looked lovely through one of Pansy's vital organs.

Hermione had changed so much in ten years.

She hadn't read Hogwarts: A History in a very long time.

But occasionally she stared at her wand and whispered an advanced NEWT level spell into it, just to see if she still could…well, if she still could.

Ron's eyes grew dark, and Hermione watched as Pansy's face fell and she murmured, "I didn't mean it, Weasel."

Hermione left, then, because it should be a moment all to them; a moment of truth for Ron that Hermione shouldn't be a part of, and that showed, quite a bit, how very much Hermione changed.

While she was leaving, however, a door opened as she backed away, and she stumbled into Malfoy's place of residence.

She decided that she had died and hadn't noticed, and was indeed residing in a sick dimension of Hell.

The door slammed shut behind her, and she opened her eyes.

It was a…serviceable dwelling. It had no ornaments, no personal items that revealed a part of its resident's character. The only thing present in the apartment that told Hermione that it did belong to a Malfoy and not a very good imposter was an imposing black cane leaning against the wall, emanating a definite air of disdain and power. If canes could possibly do that, then this staff was the kingpin of them all.

And then, of course, Draco Malfoy brushed past her and stopped in the middle of the room, as if waiting for something. As he waited, Hermione observed him with a sinking heart, aware that there was no possible way she could leave until he left.

Crack!

Lucius Malfoy appeared in front of Draco, with what could only be a handler gripping his arm in a fist of wire-braided bone and muscle.

Seven years, Hermione moaned to herself. Seven years without having to look at either of their identical eyes, seven years of forgetting, and then an atomic bomb was dropped on all her hard work because Ron picked the worst place to live in the entire country.

The handler nodded coldly at Malfoy Junior as he took his father's hand in the gentlest, most graceful movement that Hermione had ever seen from him, and most likely would ever see. "One hour?" It was said softly.

"One hour." The handler replied harshly, crossing his arms, and pacing to the other side of the room.

Hermione inched closer to Draco and Lucius, the idea that she was invisible to them sending her a surge of adrenaline at being able to touch those who once would have killed her.

They were silent for a whole minute. Hermione counted.

"Hello, Father," Draco said, finally.

And Hermione's heart broke the tiniest bit when Lucius turned his vacant gaze onto his son, mouth slack, and displayed no signs of recognition. Her heart broke just the tiniest bit more when Draco said nothing and wiped with his sleeve the thin strand of saliva that inched out of the corner of Lucius's mouth.

"Why are you living here?" Lucius said after a while, when his eyes regained a small measure of lucidity; his voice possessed merely a ghost of the authoritarian tone it had before.

"Well," Draco sneered, "I had to give the Ministry all the information I knew and almost all our fortune to keep you from the Dementor's Kiss. Or don't you remember, Father?" Or don't you remember that you wouldn't have done it for me?

Lucius said nothing. His shoulders were stooped, his hair uncombed and messy; walking slowly, ponderously across the floor he stopped at the sink and looked carefully at its faucet.

He walked back a minute later, shakily holding a glass half-full of water in his hands. "Are you thirsty?"

"No." But Draco took it anyway and drank it all.

And that nearly shattered Hermione's heart.

She kind of hated Draco Malfoy at that moment for proving he was human.

1.1.1.1.

"I've been sneaking around for two weeks, Ronald, under Harry's invisibility cloak. It's served its purpose well. I don't understand what evidence you've managed to combust out of cosmic nothingness to prove I must confront…him."

"Hermione…" The woman was easily the most exasperating one he had ever met. And not cutely exasperating, because she didn't pout when she was exasperated, and she didn't do that whole heaving chest thing because she had a big heart and didn't have to breathe in very quickly. She was a rather ugly thing to deal with when she was exasperated. Or angry. Or crying.

He was only allowed to say that, though, because he'd known her a very long time. If someone else said that he'd totally kick their arse.

"I refuse."

"Hermione…"

"I said, no."

"Hermioneee…"

"I don't want to meet and greet him."

"Hermione."

"In fact, I've already met him. You know that already. I don't have to meet him more than twice in my lifetime. Nobody deserves that punishment."

"Hermione."

"I don't care that I'm being rude and that he is probably listening through the door as I speak. Because I don't care, Ron. That's the thing. I don't care."

"Exactly."

"Finally, he says something other than my name."

Ron rolled his eyes. His brilliant friend was so stupid sometimes; that was why she got passed up for promotion at the Ministry and that was why she settled for a mere desk job as an accountant. As a Muggle accountant, at that, because she called the Ministry and everybody in it a plethora of bureaucratic bastards who would kill their children if they received a Ministry-stamped paper telling them to do so. (She was doomed from the moment she stepped through the Ministry doors and gasped in horror as a house elf waddled across her path, carrying coffee to some stuffy office-dweller.) "I told you already, Hermione. He's not…he's different now. It's been a long time. D'you think you could at least try to be civil to him?" Ron paused for dramatic effect. "He's got cleaning duty this week and my kitchen's a mess."

"Oh!" She cried, outraged and inexplicably hurt. "Oh, you're sharing schedules now!"

She was so stupid.

He smiled sweetly at her, big blues reflecting the synthetic light above their heads. "You'll always be my best friend."

"Shut up, Ronald. I hate you so much." Actually, she did in that moment harbor a strange dislike for her (former!) best friend that could have been attributed to the odd, squirming feelings that wobbled around in her stomach at the idea of seeing Malfoy again. She would commit homicide for an escape route right now.

Actually she wouldn't, for the only thing blocking her path to an exit was her (former!) best friend. And she didn't dislike him quite that much, because he brought her chocolate whenever she asked him to.

"So…?" Ron glanced at her hopefully.

"Good lord." She rubbed her temples. "I feel like you're asking me to meet your new girlfriend."

"…Uh."

"Pansy, eh?"

"Yeeeaaaah, I was about to—"

"I'm meeting Malfoy for you, Ron. Don't make this any more difficult for me, please. We'll talk about this later."

There was a creak. "Lovely creature, in't she? What with all the interrupting and near-fanatic desire to listen to herself speak, I'm amazed you've managed to—"

It was instinctive and she cursed herself afterwards for giving in to the overwhelming urge to put the pale, poncy bigot in his place. "Oh, shut your mouth, Malfoy. You've never even been nominated for Mr. Modesty."

He scowled at her, and in that expression she saw a ghost of the spoiled fifteen year old boy (not even a man-boy yet) who strode the halls of Hogwarts and saw his every chance for first place snatched away by those he had looked down on From The Beginning. "Yes, well," he struggled. "At least I've never been the model on the cover of Beavers' Guide to Beauty. Or," his eyes lit up with inspiration, "the cover of Models Like Medusa."

He wasn't very smart, was he?

Something in her expression communicated this thought to him (perhaps it was the raised eyebrow, the twist in her lip, the eyelids drooping in disdain), for he flushed with embarrassment, nearly glancing around for Crabbe and Goyle to shield him from the inevitable snickers.

"Er. Right. Hermione, civil."

"He started it." She defended herself. "Don't rag on me for something that is clearly his fault."

Ron walked out of the door, silently waiting for them to follow him (like effing sheep, they were) into Draco's apartment. They followed. (Because like an effing sheep he was, and because she was a little scared that Ron was angry with her.)

"Why are you here, by the way?" She hissed at him on their way across the hall, finding it much easier to revert to her thirteen year old self than concentrate on the fact that she hadn't seen him since his trial and his following trip to prison.

"Pansy made me." He answered brusquely.

Hermione peered closer and gasped in mingled horror and joy. "Your eye! Did she…" Why, it was almost too good to be true. "Did she punch you?"

Draco slapped a hand to his bruised eye. "No." He retorted defensively, wincing and pulling his palm away. "No!"

She beamed, ignoring Ron's look of warning. She rather liked this new Pansy. She might even invite Pansy to go sock shopping with her if Draco's new coloring was any indication of Pansy Version 6.0. If Pansy hurt Draco's other eye, Hermione would even let Pansy shop for kitchen utensils with her.

"All right. I'm leaving. You disgust me." Ron threw his hands up in the air, an unmanly trait he had inherited from his mother, and walked out with this final message: "You two stay in here and bond until I get back or I'll tell Pansy that you bailed out and I'll never bring chocolate for you, Hermione, ever again." He was a baaaad man. He drove a hard bargain.

A part of Hermione thought that being in a room with Draco Malfoy for an hour wouldn't be so bad, because it had been…a very long time. The shirt Draco wore revealed his forearms, and the skin there was pink and pale and unmarred.

"I despise that kid." Malfoy/Draco remarked a few seconds after the door had quietly clicked shut. The only reason his bare room did not cry out in the silence was because of the two warm, living, breathing bodies that blocked the sound waves from crashing from wall to wall. He seemed to be making a genuine effort to make her feel just a little more comfortable, for he pushed away from the wall and sauntered over to his refrigerator. "Would you…like a soda?" He asked dubiously. "A beer, maybe?"

"A soda would be just fine, thank you," she replied primly, ever-mindful that Ron had made her promise to put up with Draco/Malfoy for just a few moments of her life.

He didn't move. In fact, his eyes and eyebrows and mouth twitched, itching to fit themselves back into the mold they were suited to, before finally giving in and curving into a malicious expression that made him look years younger. The prat even had the nerve to giggle. "Oh, that's too bad, because I don't have any!" He hooted. He cackled. His cheeks grew practically rosy with glee.

A bit mental, that one. "You would fit in very, very well with a group of twelve-year-olds."

"Yes, except that my balls—"

"Oh. Ew. Please don't complete that statement. I have been lucky enough in life to have avoided knowledge of any intimate details revolving around your sordid personal life, and I intend to keep it that way."

"And she still speaks like a fucking textbook."

"On the bright side, my intelligence is high enough that I don't have to resort to vulgar language to entertain or to explicate my meaning."

He shot her a look of contempt. She remembered again how much she hated that look. "You are so annoying. And insecure." He still thought he knew everything.

Hermione slapped him, for no particular reason; maybe because she had been itching to do that since the end of Sixth Year, and maybe because the connoisseur in her thought that the other side of Draco's face looked a bit bare next to Pansy's impressive craftsmanship.

1.1.1.1.

"I forgot my bag." She snarled the next day, walking into his apartment (he never locked the door because no one dangerous ever bothered to come to this floor, and because someone was always there, even if it was only Weasel).

He handed it wordlessly to her from his couch, where he was watching Casablanca on the television. Before she could stomp back out—he swore she had ogre feet—Draco said softly, "Why do people like us have to go through life-or-death circumstances before anything happens?"

She halted briefly at the door. "Because we don't like each other, Malfoy. And we never will." She ticked off her grievances, incensed over the new coffee stain she saw in the corner of her purse and still just a little angry at him for changing. "Because 'people like us' were enemies from the start. Because you…you…because you're an asshole and short of saving my life there is nothing you could possibly do to make anything happen between us, you pervert!"

He paused thoughtfully, and as if the idea had just entered his head, said, "Want to have dinner with me?"

She spluttered in disbelief. "No!"

She stomped out of Draco's apartment and stomped into Ron's and stomped back out of there after screaming at the sight of her (former, people, former!) best friend and a feminine version of her own blast from the past rolling (naked!) on the floor.

To count, three people had now seen Pansy's least favorite (yet most comfortable) pair of knickers. Four, if one counted the hobo Pansy had once drunkenly flashed after a dare from her not-so-best-friend Draco.

Her lunch break happily over, Hermione returned to her singularly unenlightening job and began to think anew, for the first time in years, that maybe she deserved something a bit better than this.

1.1.1.1.

To lessen the tension between them, Draco decided that he would introduce a new subject rather than the other way around.

"I asked out a girl today." He felt twelve again, asking his daddy what to do so a girl would like him a bit more than she did right now. "She, er, said no."

"OH, THAT'S TOO BAD, SON." Beneath the thin layer of faked disinterest, Draco sensed Lucius's overwhelming curiosity. Draco confided little about his personal life to his father; had learned not to after his fourth year when he had complained one too many times about Harry Potter Who Was Loved From The Beginning. (He liked this Father, though, so he supposed that he was simply getting to know a stranger all over again.)

"Mn. Do you remember Hermione Granger?"

Lucius paused. Draco could sense his frown. "NO." The drugs blurred the edges of his father's memory; blurred them so effectively, in fact, that even the memory of the Dark Lord was only a distant dream in shades of black and green. Lucius barely remembered anything when his drugs took complete hold—the only things that he seemed to remember about his former life were his son, his wife, and random memories comprised primarily of sense and feeling and color.

"Oh." The younger man relaxed and felt ashamed for it. "I don't know why I asked her to dinner, actually. It seemed to make sense at the time, only that it really shouldn't have, as she was screaming at me and putting to good use those powerful lungs she developed while lecturing on the evils of the enslavement of house elves." He paused, hesitating for a moment, before remembering that the man on the other end of the phone line was a stranger. "I think that…Do you think people deserve second chances, Father?"

The answer came quickly and simply from the mouth of one who barely had the sense and moral conflict and memory to continually debate the issue. Draco got a little choked up (that lump in his throat must be a remnant of ham left over from lunch) at the child-like simplicity of his father's thinking. "WELL, THAT DEPENDS on the person, doesn't it?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it does." He said goodbye and hung up before turning around to see an irate Pansy standing in his doorway and drumming her fingers along her forearm—always a danger sign.

He was going to die, wasn't he? Alone and celibate and desperately craving pickles and ice cream. (And apparently man-preggie.)

"You were rude to her, weren't you?"

"Is she your new best friend or what?" Draco asked evasively, hoping that Pansy hadn't found out that Draco had asked Granger out. His reputation would be ruined. (Or…wait, he didn't have a reputation any more. There was something liberating in that thought.)

"And you asked her out."

Oh, shit.

"You screw this up and I will kick your ass, pretty boy."

Pansy had been watching far too many American movies lately.

"Because I…I kind of like R—Weasel and…and…and I'd rather you not make his best friend pissed off at you and through you, your best friend, me, and then make Ron angry at me." Pansy was cute when her mind went in circles and she didn't know what to say. (She was cute when she was silent and had locked up her storage of obscenities and insults with confusion.)

Draco's face softened, because somewhere in there was the innocent fourteen year old girl that he had always sort of loved. "Aw, Pans…I'm your best friend?"

"No. I'm your best friend because I'm the only friend you have because you're a socially inept, arse-wiping dipshit." So charming. So charming.

1.1.1.1.

The apartment wasn't decorated in palettes of red and gold and burgundy, because frankly she had always thought that the décor in the Gryffindor common room had looked a little too opulent for her tastes. It may have suited a centuries-old castle. It did not suit real, practical life.

Her furniture was darker because that way stains weren't so visible. Her floor was mostly bare to avoid the consequences of various messes that would inevitably stain her carpet—if she had carpet, that is.

There was no regulation of color for her apartment, actually, because she had learned, long ago, the benefits of chaos. (She still kept grocery lists, though, and made sure her refrigerator was always organized, and knew where her pots and pans were at all times, and folded her socks and underwear, and organized her take-out menus in alphabetical order.)

Harry had left both her and Ron a large sum of money—had they accepted it, they would have been able to live in relative luxury for the rest of their lives. But they had refused. And they had also refused the money the Ministry and other businesses, enterprises, and individuals had offered them in exchange for Winning the War, because that would cheapen the sacrifices made to ensure that victory. So, you know, now they only officially appeared to the public during the annual We Won the War! Festival Day and in exchange for that one annual appearance, the Ministry left them alone.

In retrospect, she thought it was a pretty good deal.

When she called Ron, the phone rang exactly sixteen times before he answered. "Who is this?"

Hermione took the phone away from her ear and glared at it. "Ron, that's no way to answer the phone. What if it was someone important?"

"Well, I'm lucky that it's just you, aren't I?" Ron remarked, and Hermione lamented the loss of her far-too-decent best friend who had suddenly been replaced with this world-wise, sardonic meanie. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he sighed. Hermione suddenly noticed how heavily he was breathing and wondered if he had seen Pansy in her knickers again. Ew. Ew. She noticed she had a rather unfortunate habit of picturing the bedroom activities of her friends. "But I'll call you later, all right? Igottago." And he hung up on her.

She stared at the phone for a while before hanging up and then picking up again, staring half-heartedly at the number that Ron had given her and punching its permanent imprint into her phone. "Malfoy?"

Why was she calling him? Why was she calling him? She called him and she immediately accepted him back into her life. She called him and that meant that she was giving up. She called him and…and wasn't she disrespecting Harry's memory by doing this? Wasn't she?

"Who the hell are you?"

The downfall of their society began when people forgot their telephone manners, Hermione realized. "What do you mean, who the hell am I? First Ron, then you—next thing we know, the Queen will start answering her telephone with obscenities."

"Oh, Granger. It's you and your swotty accent come to plague me again. And how do you know the Queen doesn't answer her phone with, 'Fuck off before I send my knights to kill you all'? Although that threat mightn't work, seeing as she's knighted far too many Americans and old people for my liking."

"Because the Queen is the Queen and—oh, this is ridiculous."

"You started it," Draco answered comfortably.

"You're so juvenile."

"Says Miss Mr. Modesty."

"That doesn't make the least bit of sense."

"You said it."

"I did not! And oooh, you…you! Stop distracting me. I seem to remember you mentioned something about a meal?"

"That depends. Are you paying?"

"I…you know what, Malfoy? I don't need your generous Malfoy charity. I don't need company and I certainly don't need you as an acquaintance or even—God in heaven graciously forbid—a friend. I can eat dinner by myself, in front of the television, and I will be perfectly content."

She could feel him beaming on the other end. "Brilliant. I'll pick you up in five minutes."

He did, indeed, pick her up in five minutes, although it was more like four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Although 'picking up' might have been stretching it a bit far—all he did was show up at her door in jeans and a T-shirt and about two pounds to pay for a meal that would cost about ten. Fifteen with drinks.

"Just so you know, Malfoy," Hermione said around a mouthful of fish and chips an hour later, "you're the worst date I've ever had."

"This isn't a date," He mumbled, also around a mouthful of fish and chips, but with cheap beer added to the swill. "This is my method of getting you to pay for my food."

"And that after this is over," she continued unabated, "I never want to see you again."

He shrugged. "Okay."

1.1.1.1.

They saw each other a few times after that.

Just a few times. Sometimes she called him up when she was feeling a little sad and wanted someone to get her chocolate, and Ron was too occupied with Pansy and, well, she hadn't really seen Ginny since she got married to Dean. Sometimes he called her up when he got tired of the television and thought that his apartment echoed a little emptily.

"And just to let you know, Malfoy, after I finish this cake, I am leaving."

"If you like."

1.1.1.1.

"As much as I think that you're rather a decent person, Malfoy, after I finish this lobster, I refuse to see you ever again."

"All right."

1.1.1.1.

Lucius Malfoy had gotten to know this Hermione Granger a little too well over the past three weeks.

"…and do you know, Father, that she folds her underwear? What sort of pathetic person folds their underwear?"

Much too well.

His voice regained a small percentage of the imperious tone it had known so well before. Of course, that might have been because he started off his every speech with shouting before he remembered rather belatedly that one didn't have to shout on the phone. "DRACO, IF YOU insist on discussing this Hermione girl as if she was the only thing in your life—as if she was your wife, in fact, with all this complaining you do—why don't you take her on a proper excursion to a nice location—I think…I seem to remember, at least, that there was a lovely restaurant that your mother and I went to—you were conceived that night, you know— and please stop talking about the tiny freckle on Hermione's eyelid?"

His son scoffed. "What, are you mad? She'd run away. The woman adores me and an action that blatant will send her scurrying away into the underbrush like a scared deer. And that's disgusting, Father. I don't—wouldn't—want to court her in the same place that my parents copulated."

"ADORES YOU? COURT HER? MY DEAR Draco, has your ego inflated all over again and given birth to a Byronic soul in the process?" As his drugs reached the end of their effectiveness, Lucius grew wittier. He also remembered a little more. The anger returned a bit later, so it was at just this moment that Draco loved and liked his father best.

"You're so funny, Father."

"DO YOU LIKE HER?"

Draco paused. "What do you mean?"

"WHAT PHYSICAL, MENTAL, emotional, and spiritual traits—"

"Oh. Well, she's not…ugly. She still has that awful hair and she's almost as tall as I am and she constantly nags people and she's really annoying. But…I don't know. She still believes in stuff, you know? Like, I know she tries to be all cynical and world-weary but deep down she's still that girl knitting those damn ugly hats for house elves."

A part of Lucius didn't think that his son—his own son—deserved the girl he'd heard about. And a part of him did. "DOES SHE CARE ABOUT YOU?"

"Well, off course she's desperately in love with me," Draco said confidently. There was not a shred of sarcasm. "It's completely obvious. It's only a pity that I can't return the affection."

1.1.1.1.

He was desperately in love with her. He made it far too obvious, and it was only a pity that Hermione couldn't return his affection.

Really.

If she could, she might—just might—love him. But she couldn't forgive him. Not just yet. She knew that he had spent most of his years with the Dark Lord avoiding all action that might bring about his death (he had always been a sniveling coward; had learned from the best), and so had avoided all action that might bring about the deaths of others as well, so technically he was innocent of Crimes Against Humanity.

He hadn't even found the courage to raise a stick of wood and say two words to bring about the death of an old, tired man. He was too scared of the consequences. (Children are controlled and molded by fear and fear alone. We are not born with innate ideas and we are not assured of divine truths.)

But he hadn't done anything to prevent anything. That was what Hermione couldn't forgive him for. For doing nothing. For lying like a bloody amoeba in the red cesspool of the war.

It was Valentine's Day in three days, and Hermione was depressed. She was so depressed, in fact, that she found herself crying for characters on the Jerry Springer show. (That poor woman. How could she have known that her husband was having an affair with the one creature she trusted most of all? How could she have known that her husband was in love with the family dog? How could she have known? So don't blame her for not suspecting and for not taking in the warning signs. Don't blame her for her tears!)

She was depressing.

Normally, she and Ron spent Valentines Day watching absolutely awful romance movies and inhaling too much popcorn and chocolate and alcohol to be healthy and bitching about their nonexistent love lives and what kind of people they wanted to be with. (Ron had wanted someone "Just…decent, you know? A decent girl. Someone without so many expectations but whose eyes just kind of, like…light up, you know? When they see me and stuff. Shut up." He kind of won on that. She wanted someone "…who didn't try to change me. Because I don't mind who I am, Ron. I really don't. But I'd like someone who sort of…give me a reason to dress up once in a while. And I wouldn't mind if he messed up my alphabetized take out list trying to find the scissors or whatever. I wouldn't mind. Shut up, Ron.")

But this year, Ron had that girl. And she still didn't have one. A boyfriend, that is; not a girlfriend. Although she didn't have a girl friend, either.

She told this to Draco. She and Draco had a lot of discussions like that—she told him a lot of things about herself, such as the fact that her parents died the instant the victory bells were rung for the Light Side; a Death Eater apparated into their house and killed them, one last hurrah for the forces of Voldemort. She also told him that she found it unbearably sad that Harry was killed by a drunk driver just a few months after he'd won the war.

He told her that he thought that it was really sad that he was forced to do his own laundry because it was the most unmanly household activity one could do. At least with vacuuming you could pretend that the vacuum was a giant monster sucker of doom and that all the dust and dirt were little people running away from the killer machine.

She found something comforting in Draco's predictable, badly-done sarcasm as a means to deflect the conversation away from anything that might touch on a sensitive issue. She found something joyous in his sometimes surprising her with a weird compassion.

He didn't tell her much. Draco did tell her that when Voldemort had died, his Mark had disappeared and he'd felt so free all of a sudden, and felt like such a traitor when he saw that there were others who were broken by that release from their master, others whose Marks didn't vanish and never could, others who wailed in high, keening voices at their loss. He also told her that Voldemort had killed his mother in a homicidal rage when Draco had failed his task. (Which didn't make sense to Draco at the time, because after all, the task had ended up completed anyway.)

He found it hilarious how her face twisted and scrunched up into an expression of sympathy, even though she tried to hide it with a mask of stone and barbed, hateful words.

"You're not a very nice person, Malfoy," she told him once.

"It's not in my genetic engineering."

"How do you know so much about Muggles, anyway?"

He shrugged. "Took Muggle Studies at Hogwarts—get to know your enemies and all. And living in Muggle Prison and Muggle Land the Sequel can force a person to adapt."

She had stared at him before saying carefully, "Muggles are not your enemies, Draco."

He'd looked at her in disgust. "Don't be such a wanker, Hermione." And then he'd laughed.

What she'd noticed about his genuine laugh was that it was completely, entirely, beautifully uninhibited—it seemed to be the only thing about him that was without care or the weight of ten years of mistakes. And when she'd noticed that, she'd found herself so in danger of falling in love with this changed Malfoy that she avoided him for a whole 48 hours; in her hellish world, the equivalent to a hundred years.

The world turned 1080 degrees and it was Valentine's Day, that day where all that is pink and red come together for their one day to take over the world, that day where all that is hellishly sappy and lovey reach their peak, their crescendo, their top of the effing mountain to crush perfectly sensible relationships beneath their monstrous wheels.

She was mixing up analogies again, wasn't she?

"You can't goooo!" She wailed, perfectly willing to grab Ron's ankles and never let him leave her apartment until this demon parade was over. "We have our tradition!" She was a selfish little girl, she really was, because she should be smiling and telling Ron to have a good time with his girlfriend instead of asking him to stay with her because she was lonely.

He looked torn. "Hermione, I—"

"You see Pansy every day. I never get to see you anymore—besides, there's nothing so special about today. It's simply another day on the calendar that people glorify because they want—nay, need—the opportunity to get laid."

"I would stay, Hermione, I really would, but Pansy…er, Pansy and I, well, made plans. And I'd ask you to come, but you wouldn't like it at all and it's kind of…I don't know. It our day, you know? I'm sorry."

A wave of guilt defeated its dam and Hermione crumbled under the weight. "Oh, fine. Go have sex with Pansy."

"Hermione!" She giggled at Ron's shocked expression.

"No, it's alright." She smiled wanly. "I'll be fine. Go. Go on, go. I'll have fun. I'll get to watch my movies without you voicing complaints every five seconds."

Her best friend—the sweetest, nicest, best best friend she had ever met—grinned in relief and trotted out the door. "Alright. If you're sure. I'll talk to you later, okay?" And the door slammed. He was, apparently, not that concerned about her faith in her decision.

When he left, she found herself thinking about Draco.

Oh, fuck.

She'd gone and moved on and forgiven, hadn't she?

1.1.1.1.

Another similar conversation was taking place one block down the street.

"But you can't go, Pansy. You can't. Are you honestly ditching me for the Weasel?"

"Hey." She stomped on his foot. "You said yourself that he was alright, after he punched you in your spleen. So don't talk about him like that."

Draco rolled his eyes and offered a truce, mindful of her sky high stilettos. "Thank God he has you for his knight in shining armor. I don't know how he managed to survive without you."

She beamed at him and pinched his cheeks. His bum cheeks. "You're so sweet."

Those pinches totally revoked the Pansy Toleration act. "But I'm depressed." He whined. "I'll be all alone on Valentine's Day and maybe I'll even kill myself but nobody will notice for twenty four hours because you'll all be too busy rutting."

The glare Pansy shot him could have blinded someone wearing sunglasses a meter thick. "You are without a doubt the rudest person I have ever met."

He smirked and pinched her cheeks. Her bum cheeks. "You're so sweet."

She slapped him and then leaned down to peck him lightly on the cheek, and with a quick flash of her teeth (flicker shimmer glint like fish scales underwater) she was gone.

His home felt a little empty after that.

Popular decision indicated that Draco Malfoy had no feelings. Wasn't quite sure what love was. Was still immature, both in body and character—he was still rather short…thin and wiry like twelve-year-old boys of summers past…only had to shave once every two weeks and with a thin, sensitive mouth that made him look years younger than his 26. Draco traced his jaw line in the mirror. "Mirror, mirror, on the wall," he whispered.

This was stupid. He had no time and no energy for mind games with himself.

The city's streets gleamed grayly in the odd night lighting. From his window, Draco could see various couples huddled so closely that in the shadows that changed like ripples on water they looked like they were one being. A girl in a red cap slipped her mittened hand into the large, clumsy-looking one of her partner and Draco saw her smile (flicker glimmer glint like fish scales underwater).

It was in that moment that Draco realized how very tired he was of being alone all the time, and how very tired he was of paying for the mistakes of a father and of a child.

He decided that he'd get some ice cream to cheer him up. He'd read somewhere that ice cream had special cheering-up attributes and hoped that those qualities didn't apply merely to menstrual females and divorcees.

1.1.1.1.

Those sick bastards. Those sick, sick bastards.

What kind of institution didn't have ice cream? Especially during this season. Especially today. Especially when hundreds of lonely women such as herself would be clamoring for chocolate, ice cream, potato crisps, alcohol, etc., anything that had thousands of calories and grams of sugar and fats that would go straight to their thighs? Especially when lonely women realized that an insensible affection for the most loathsome creature on the planet festered in their hearts? When lonely women realized that they had two friends in the world, one of whom was off on a date with a violent, completely independent, completely unsuitable-for-him woman and that her other friend-ish thing was an ignorant, prejudiced buffoon who made her pay for her own meals every time he asked her out?

This was all hypothetical, theoretical, and rhetorical, of course.

Never mind that it was one o'clock in the morning. Never mind that most people who thought ahead (and oh, lord, how she missed being one of them) had probably emptied out all grocery stores and drugstores in the near vicinity of everything yummy and loaded with guilt. Never mind that the person at the cash register quivered in fear as Hermione stalked out of the store with eyes ablaze and a-crazed. Never mind all that, for if Hermione Granger wanted ice cream she damn well better get it.

And those who stood in her way would be rolled over and ironed and creased into perfect pleats on her skirt of freaking war.

She walked two more blocks down the street to the next store.

1.1.1.1.

Lips stained red left faint outlines on his pale, freckled neck. Ron knocked over the umbrella stand and fumbled with Pansy's buttons, briefly coming up for air and then kissing her again.

"Okay…yeah…yeah, that's…oh…mn…" She wasn't silent when they had sex. She didn't say much of anything intelligible, but she certainly wasn't quiet. Pansy groaned again and fumbled behind her for support, resting her hand on an innocent umbrella lying quietly in the corner. "Oh…oh, that's nice…"

"You've taken…understatement…to an art form…" Ron mumbled between kisses and licks and nibbles, scrunching his eyes (beautiful eyes, she thought, although she never told him because blue eyes were such a cliché) at her.

She laughed.

And slipped.

And, while trying not to fall down, accidentally stabbed the umbrella into Ron's rather excited nether regions.

He gasped in shock, pupils dilating as she stared at him in horror. In slow motion, he rocked back and forth and fell sideways, whimpering like a baby. "Oh, God."

"Oh, dear." She whispered, tentatively poking Mr. Mighty and placing her hand over her mouth, eyes wide. "I think we've killed him."

"Of course we killed him!" Ron squeaked, all testosterone having officially left the building. "Of course he's dead! Oh God, he's dead!" He'd never be able to have children. His most prized possessions were permanently damaged.

His future descendants were killed by an umbrella that quacked when you pushed its beak.

1.1.1.1.

No ice cream? No ice cream?

After all these years, Draco hadn't yet adapted to disappointment and not getting what material things he felt he deserved. (And damn, but he deserved this ice cream. He deserved velvety chocolate ice cream because he was a sad, pathetic person without a date on Valentine's Day. He deserved this ice cream like he hadn't deserved anything else in his life.) So Draco pressed his lips in a thin line and tilted his nose in the air and swaggered out in search of a place that just might have the fix he needed. Company to watch sappy old romance movies with.

He went through two more stores, gradually growing more frustrated and irritable until a holy light shone on one lone carton of ice cream sitting by itself on its little shelf in a tiny drugstore that smelled like incense. Draco licked his lips and ran for it.

He crashed into a walking, talking brown bush.

"You!" It shrieked.

There was something startlingly familiar about that word said in that voice. And about that walking, talking brown bush with scarily snapping eyes, as well. "Back off, Granger," Draco snarled, holding his carton protectively to his chest. "This one's mine."

She sniffed. "You're pathetic."

"Yes, well, need I ask why you're eyeing my ice cream so rapaciously?"

There was another reason why he'd hated Granger in the past. It was that infuriating, condescending tone that so clearly stated how much better she was than Them. "Don't use big words you don't understand, little boy."

Draco was tempted to smack her (because he wasn't that great a person, and he had hit girls before), but remembered just in time that he was the one with the creamy, chocolaty goodness in his arms. "Mine!" He cackled out loud. Then he realized how weird he sounded and ran away to pay for his food.

Hermione followed close on his tail and brought him down with an impressive leap-and-tackle, crashing him into the Valentine's chocolate display in Aisle 4. "It's mine!" She hissed into his ear, wary of the dozing clerk in the corner, who thus far had only twitched when the tower of chocolate came tumbling down.

"Try to take it from me," he hissed right back, rolling over and accidentally-on-purpose jabbing her breast with his elbow.

She curled up in pain, and then her foot snapped up as if of its own volition and kicked him in a very tender spot.

He clutched his bleeding lip. "Ow! You play dirty!"

The corner of her lip twitched upwards in a rather nasty smile and her other foot kicked him in the tenderest spot on his entire body. "I learned from the best."

He collapsed on the floor with a groan, clutching his groin and taking in deep, shuddering breaths. "Oh, Jesus Christ. What the hell did I do this time? Said some itty bitty thing that contradicted your daily itinerary? Screwed up your alphabetized take-out drawer?"

She paused. And for some bizarre reason, that one last line sent Hermione into hysterics. Her nose got so red and she began to worry him so much with her excessive emotion that Draco was unable to do anything beyond lick his lips in shock. "You're such a…you're such an asshole, do you know that? You know that, Draco? You're just this…this weak, selfish person and I don't even know why you're still around. God, you didn't even…how can I…you're not even a person. You're just a shell of a person because you don't have magic and you don't have your Malfoy fortune and your dad's mental and you…and I…I despise you, Malfoy. I hate you so much and do you have any idea what it's like to be me at this moment? Do you?"

"Don't talk about my father, Hermione. Don't you dare talk about my father that way."

This couldn't be all about the ice cream. As lovely as chocolate ice cream was, it could not have sparked Hermione's sudden breakdown. No ice cream in the world could have prompted this sudden verbal slamming that Draco had been resignedly expecting from the moment he flew through her window.

"What happened, Malfoy?" She spat angrily. "What happened to you during the war? Did it change you? Did it make you better? Does that justify Harry's death, that one person suddenly realized that his actions as a child were just that—the actions of a mere boy with no thoughts of his own?"

Draco drew himself to his full height, and gained a few more inches on Hermione. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. Perhaps we are all born with innate ideas and innate truths within our souls, and perhaps one of my pre-conceived beliefs is that you will always be lower than me." And spitefully, angrily, because he wanted really badly at that moment to see his dad and to make up for his past and to return to the boy-child who knew nothing beyond the borders of his sheltered mansion/castle life, he said, "Mudblood."

Her eyes shattered and he broke the little girl that tried to free those who were too ignorant and too happy to know what freedom was. And he felt genuinely bad for the first time in his life.

"Hermione…Hermione!"

He shoplifted the ice cream, absurdly giddy that he was getting away with crime, and ran after the foolish (no, not so foolish, just very confused) girl. "Hermione, I didn't mean it, Hermione…"

She whirled around in the middle of the street, wiping her snotty nose with the back of her hand and sobbed for the entire world to hear, "I hate you so much, Malfoy! You say that word, that word, a word that started a war, and do you believe that I still LOVE YOU?"

The world turned one degree.

He saw the truck before she did, and saw the bright white lights reflected in her eyes reflecting his eyes and screamed her name, pushing the noise out of his lungs, pushing his lungs out of his chest as he ran in slow motion towards her because he had to get to her in time.

"It's so sad, Draco, don't you think? He saved old people and friends and lovers and children and babies and flowers and sunshine and was killed in a random hit-and-run accident by a drunk driver. That's the tragedy of it. That he died before he was able to begin a life of his own, and he died for no cause at all."

He felt long-forgotten muscles flex, as if aching for the feel of the most expensive, fastest broom between his legs; he felt his arm muscles stretch as he tried so, so, so hard to reach for the snitch—no, for Hermione—felt Hogwarts scream with him and surge to their feet—no, that was long gone, this was just a crowd of Muggles that saw a miracle unfold—and God, but he needed to win this game, beat this game upside its ass—stretch, stretch, stretch, Draco-my-boy, because you need this more than anything in the world—felt his fingers just brush the golden, smooth surface of the winged ball—no, that was her cheek—

February 15 1:37 am:

Draco Malfoy, wandless, illegally performed magic for the first time in seven years.

And he was whole again.

1.1.1.1.

He opened his eyes to Hermione's face. He looked down to see London bobbing below them. He closed his eyes again; when he opened them, he was still floating a mile above ground. "What are we doing up here?" He asked groggily, wriggling his limbs and bringing himself upright.

From this vantage point, he could see every eyelash. He could see her brown eyes and feel a bit of her hair brush against his arm. He could also see a pimple forming at the midpoint of her eyebrows, but decided not to tell her that.

She looked exhausted and when she spoke, her normally forceful voice was subdued. "I don't know. You rushed towards me at this just…supernatural speed, and then there was a rush of wind, and then we were…here."

Draco tested the air. His feet met no resistance, but neither did they move. "How long was I unconscious?"

"Only about thirty seconds."

He nodded awkwardly, unable to stop staring at her, at her frown, at her confused, defensive expression, at the little dent in her bottom lip.

"Did you know that the peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on earth at a highest recorded speed of 440 kilometers an hour?" she said abruptly. "I read it in a book once. It uses its speed to kill." Hermione paused, chewing on her lip and pronouncing the dent. "You surpassed that speed. To save me."

He smiled softly at her, and pulled gently on a curl, using his hand to smooth out the frown lines and pull up the corner of her mouth. "So that's where you've been hiding." He whispered.

The girl—no, woman—coughed and sobbed and snorted a clump of bogies onto his shirt. "Oh, God, stop being so nice to me. I hate it when you're nice, especially when I've been so horrible."

"I deserved it."

She paused. "Yes. Yes, you did, actually."

"Hey! I—"

She interrupted him with a swift, sweet peck on the lips that couldn't even be counted as a kiss. But he leaned forward for more as she leaned back, pursing his lips and frowning when they met nothing but air and giggles.

Hermione snorted when she laughed. It was that donkey-like bray that he found unbelievably attractive about her. And it was contagious.

"You have a wonderful laugh." She blurted.

He blushed like a woman-thing. This was a strange turn of events, and he swore that if she came up with any more compliments to set him at ease before she struck, he'd jump off a cliff and kill himself before she could. "Hey." He grinned, embarrassedly changing the subject and pulling something out of his pocket. "I still have the ice cream."

"Did you pay for that?" she asked suspiciously.

"Yes."

"Okay." Satisfied, she searched for her wand to transfigure something into a spoon…and didn't find it.

"But I lied."

"What?" She yelped, snatching her fingers away. "You stole this? Do you have any idea how much trouble you'll be in if you got caught on the security cameras?"

"Oh, come on, Granger," Draco said easily, pulling off the cap with a pop. "Live a little. Eat stolen ice cream with your fingers. Float in a random bubble of space above London and don't question it. Realize that you can't change everything. Fart like a man and stuff."

"You're so revolting."

He shrugged and scooped out a mouthful of ice cream with his hand. "And unhygienic, as well. You're going to end up sharing Malfoy cooties if you want any ice cream at all."

The stars shone dully behind sheets of clouds. "Oh, no. I went to five stores looking for ice cream and I'm going to have it. At this point, Malfoy cooties don't scare me in the slightest."

"Oh, yeah?" He tried to growl sexily, but failed because he forgot he still had ice cream in his mouth and sprayed the gloop onto her face. "I'm a bad boy, you know."

She eyed him in amusement, silently wiping away the ice cream droplets, much to the grateful salvation of his ambiguous dignity. "Whatever you say."

"So…" He said after a while. "Does this mean that you'll take me out to dinner now?"

Hermione threw ice cream at him and glared. "You're an idiot. I happen to think that my declaration was…well, what I said was sort of romantic."

"Oh, yes." He played along for her sake. "Very. Standing in the middle of a wet street, on top of a piece of gum—that's still stuck to your heel, by the way—and shouting that you hate me before you get to the actual declaration part."

"Yeah? Well, I didn't exactly hear you spouting poetry, either." She fumed, suddenly discomfited because she didn't actually know how he felt about her.

…Did she just say that out loud?

He eyed her in confusion. "I should think that my saving your life should be enough."

He was such a man. "Of course it isn't enough, Draco." And she was tired of fighting with him. "Some things need to be put in words. And…anybody could save anybody's life."

They were silent for a while. "I wouldn't have saved Harry's life, you know." He finally muttered. "I couldn't have performed magic," he rolled the word around his mouth as if it was new, "for him."

"I know." She whispered.

He leaned over and kissed her—a proper kiss this time, begging her to understand that he was Draco Malfoy and that meant that he wasn't too great with words. His pale pink lips touched her blushing red ones. I love you.

His terrified tongue traced and glided and danced around hers. I love you.

Their teeth clacked together with the force of his momentum and his front teeth gently pressed against her bottom lip, so scared that she'd pull away. I love you.

Noses bumped and she realized that his features weren't as angular as she thought, and he realized that all her hair hid the most kissable neck. I love you.

"I'm sorry I said that about your father." She whispered when he placed a centimeter of space between his face and hers.

"I know."

The kiss tasted like chocolate ice cream and fear and unwashed breath and blood and forgiveness and wind on top of the city.

I love you.

1.1.1.1.

Two weeks later…

"What are your intentions towards my son, Ms. Granger?"

Hermione's nostrils flared as she tried to take in the situation. "Pardon?"

Lucius leaned forward, slightly watery eyes boring into hers. "Are you prepared for the responsibility of a proper relationship with my son? Can you appreciate at least a few aspects of his personality? Or…" He leaned closer, definitely invading her personal space, and said lowly in a serious tone "…do you only want him for his body?

Changing her hysterical giggle to a cough, Hermione graciously refrained from informing Lucius that his son was only a little taller than her, probably weighed ten pounds less than her, and was anemically pale and had on more than one occasion been mistaken for a girl because his eyes were so big and gray and his hair was so pretty. "Believe me, sir, I wouldn't be with Draco if I didn't love him."

The older man eyed her suspiciously and then, shooting a mischievous glance towards his handler, opened his arms and hesitantly reached for Hermione in a tentative, frail embrace that made way for the brave new world ahead. "I've heard a lot about you." He muttered into her hair.

And while a small, stubborn part of her (although Draco would say that that was impossible, as all of her was stubborn) still recoiled at even being in the same room as the man who had made it his life mission to eradicate her family, her friends, her world…a bigger part of her was so, so happy that it was possible for things to change. That Lucius was given a new start. That the little girl in her that bought ugly cats that no one wanted and knitted ugly hats that their intended receivers never wanted was still around to keep the older girl in check.

Hermione sniffled into Lucius's shoulder, and glared at the handler when he rushed over to pull Lucius away.

"I'll see you later, all right?" She smiled, repressing the urge to coo when Lucius's face stretched into a heartbreakingly joyful grin. She saw, now, the resemblance between Draco and his father.

"All right, Hermione. I'll see you later." The informal phrase sounded so funny in Lucius's deep voice that Hermione bit her lip in a small smile the rest of the day.

The morning after Valentine's Day, various Ministry officials had arrived on the scene to Obliviate Muggle witnesses and retrieve the couple from the sky. They didn't know until their broomsticks arrived and they were able to fly up that The Hermione Granger was with the ex-convict. And it was solely through The Hermione Granger's earnest assurance that they let The Draco Malfoy go without punishment.

Having a girlfriend who saved the world seven times during her career as a heroine, Draco reflected, was quite useful.

And he had his wand back, as Dumbledore's will (and his word was law, especially after his death) stated that after his release from prison, Draco's wand was to be returned to him—the Ministry had conveniently 'forgotten' about this stipulation, and had had convenient 'difficulties' locating Draco. He didn't press charges. It was not precisely his old wand, as it had been broken and burned a long time ago. But a new one, from Ollivanders, that fit in his grip like he'd never lost the feel of it, answered all his wishes. It was knobbly and crooked, made of pine, unpolished, and tended to give him a splinter every time he picked it up.

Draco thought it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen.

"I feel so pathetic," he muttered as Hermione walked into their home. "I can't even remember the unlocking spell."

"What can you remember?" She set her things on the counter, walking across to him. "Perhaps the Shield Charm? Cheering charm?"

Draco's eyes lit up and he spouted enthusiastically, "I can remember the Tripping Jinx. And Furnunculus—used that on Longbottom once, didn't I? And Petrificus Totalus…Oh, shit. Hermione?" He looked at her stiff body on the floor and shuddered. She looked a little too…well, un-living for his comfort. He didn't like seeing her lying so motionless on the ground. "Uh…damn, what was it…Finito Incantion…no. Finite…Incantum? No…oh, of course. Finite Incantatem!"

She sat up and glared half-heartedly at him. "Of course you remember hexes and jinxes rather than charms that might actually bring joy to people's lives."

Perfectly serious, he asked, "Well, what's the point of those, anyway? All they have to do is run a little and get some natural endorphins into them. Why waste energy on useless things like Cheering Charms when one can get infinitely more satisfaction from performing the Jelly-Legs Jinx?"

"Really." Hermione looked doubtful. "I shall have to try that sometime. Densaugeo!"

Draco's teeth suddenly lengthened like Pinocchio's nose, with the same panic on the bearer's face. "Vat da…Hervione…! I faid I vas forry for dat in Fourf Year!"

She smirked at him. "Payback, Malfoy. And it feels good. Finite Incantatem."

His teeth back to normal, Draco scowled petulantly. "What happened to the honorable Gryffindor in you?"

Her eyelashes fluttered. "Did she ever exist?" Flirting over, Hermione cleared her throat. "Now, Draco, to return to the topic at hand. I suggest that we start from the beginning, with one of the first spells we ever learned. Repeat after me: Wingardium Leviosa." She pointed her wand at an apple and levitated it towards them.

Draco frowned. "WingardiumLeviosa?"

"Now, don't ask it. Command it. Wingardium Levi-O-sa."

"Oh, I see." Hermione missed the devilish grin that crossed Draco's face as he pointed his wand at her and said quickly, "Wingardium Leviosa!" and levitated her, outraged and squawking, above his head. "Let's see. Incarcerous…" Ropes wrapped around Hermione's wrists and he smiled up at her. "…and then…Avis!..." a flock of birds burst from his wand, twittering and cheeping giddily around her head as Draco slowly, gradually brought her level with him. "Hello, you." He smiled.

She was the one who closed her eyes, curved her lips and rubbed her nose against his in a sign of affection that filled his heart to near bursting point. "Hello, you." She breathed. "And you lied. You so remember everything—it's like riding a bicycle."

"I'm sorry I didn't get you roses for Valentine's Day."

"It's okay." She replied, conjured ropes vanishing before she winded her arms around his waist. "I'm allergic."

"Or diamonds."

"I think they're unfriendly, anyway."

"Or sexy underwear."

"I would have murdered you in a fit of passion."

"Hopefully the good kind?" Draco asked expectantly.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "You're irrepressible, aren't you? Pansy's pregnant by my best friend and you couldn't care less, as long as you get some action."

"Of course I care about Pansy and her health and wellbeing and all that shit. I'm going to be a godfather. I'm just far more concerned about the…satisfaction…of my girlfriend."

Despite herself, Hermione squeaked with laughter when Draco pressed his lips against her collarbones, traveling down to her armpit and hands and waist and ribs. "Why do you like me?" She asked absent-mindedly.

He paused only for a second, before continuing as if he thought it was obvious, "Because your hair makes a lovely pillow and I like your laugh and I like your kisses and because you're the best thing that's happened to me since I got my first broomstick."

Boys and their flying toys. "Thank you." Hermione murmured thickly, touched in a really odd sort of way. "I think that's the sweetest thing someone's ever said to me."

"Then you have to get out more because that was an awful answer." His rather beautiful lips stretched into a rather beautiful grin, and his laugh was that of Pan, and his eyes like stained glass, and Hermione would have given the world to spend the rest of her life with this man.

"If you had a choice, would you pick the happily ever after?" She asked him, not bothering to explain her train of thought because she knew that he knew it already.

Like everything that Draco did, he didn't pause for thought. "Depends. I should think that the happily ever after would be boring, wouldn't you?"

She smacked him. "That's the most clichéd answer in the world. Where do you come up with this stuff?"

Truthfully, he answered, "Badly written romance novels."

"You woman."

"You man. What're you gonna do, slap me around? Think you're something big, eh, punk?"

"At least I have a job, you broke bum, because even if it is at the Ministry they are at least letting me do something about the treatment of house elves."

"Hey, I'm working on the whole job thingum."

"While eating my food and drinking my drink, si or no?"

"Well, I still have 'til Saint Patrick's Day to make it up, don't I?"

Fade out and there is a small street below the moss-coated building. A fat orange cat wanders across it, pausing to hiss at a young red-haired fellow who glares back (they are old enemies) before looking down at his fiancee's still-flat belly with pride. The sounds of a happily squabbling couple drift down from a window above and send laughter and brightly colored sparks of magic that they will later pass off as a fireworks experiment gone bad into the air. The sun has come out, a rare sight on any day but especially in February, and even the worst of all cynics admits that there is some good in this world, no matter how many angry salespeople and caffeinated power-walkers in spandex shorts seem to fight it.

There are some innate truths in this world.

One is that soul mates exist.

Two is that there are some things that should never have been invented.

Three is that even the greatest tragedies find it within themselves to grant happiness to those to whom the chance to chase it matters most.

I love you I love you I love you.

1.1.1.1.

You are writing for: Vashka
Side pairing: Ron/Pansy
Rating: Whatever
Period: Whenever

Includes:
1) Oh, dear. I think we've killed him."
2) Lucius
3) ice cream
4) the color red

Tone: Romance

Ending: Happy of course!

…I hope that this isn't as bad as I think it is. But I do hope that it met your requirements, and that you liked it. Happy Valentine's Day, y'all!

Please review!

Be sure to check out the Dramione Fic Exchange title page for a list of authorship after Valentine's Day.